Authorities Urge Kyrgyz Herdsmen to Spy on Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang

They want the men to prevent separatists and extremists in Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture from crossing the border.

Herdsmen transfer their sheep to autumn pastures in Jigin county, Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Aug. 14, 2016.

Local authorities are urging Kyrgyz herdsmen in the mountains of a far-western prefecture in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to report suspicious people and events to the government in a new move to move to monitor Muslim Uyghurs in the restive area.

Liu Huijun, party secretary of Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, and prefecture governor Dilshat Kidirhan published an open letter to the Kyrgyz herdsmen on the government’s news portal on March 31, local police told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

The letter said the Kyrgyz people, who make up nearly 30 percent of the prefecture’s Uyghur-dominated population, have maintained a “patriotic culture” since ancient times and have always protected the country’s borders.

It also urged them to take on a “political mission” to protect the borders to ensure stability in the restive area where Uyghurs sometimes balk at heavy-handed tactics by the Chinese to suppress their culture, language, and religion. Many try to cross the border into Kyrgyzstan.

The letter asked the herdsman to turn every yurt in the grasslands into a watchtower and every herdsman into a border guard.

The Kyrgyz herdsmen were also asked to fight against “separatists, extremists, and illegal elements” and not let them cross the border—a reference to Uyghurs believed by the Chinese government to perpetuate religious extremism and terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.

The letter said officials will increase the monthly salary of herdsmen willing to take on these extra duties to 1,300 yuan (U.S. $190) from 800 yuan (U.S. $116).

“The Kyrgyz herdsman who are located along the border have duties in addition to herding and going about their daily lives, and that is to inform the government about suspicious activities and suspicious people around the border,” said the chief of the prefecture’s Oytagh township police station, who declined to give his name.

Spreading the news

After the open letter was published, the county party committee and the Oytagh township police began a campaign to promote its contents, he said.

“Last Monday, after the flag-raising ceremony, we started our campaign to learn and propagate the spirit of the letter,” he said. “All ethnic groups including Uyghur, Kyrgyz, and others studied the letter.”

A police officer in Barin township, who declined to give his name, said officers have recently been watching the station around the clock lately because the situation in the area, which is the most sensitive part of the Kizilsu Kirghiz prefecture, remains tense.

The township is where an uprising and armed revolt occurred between Uyghur militants and Chinese government forces in April 1990. Reports of the incident vary, but Uyghurs maintain that security forces killed and arrested hundreds of Uyghur fighters.

Authorities also arrested more than 7,900 Uyghurs following an ensuing crackdown on “criminal activities of ethnic splittists [separatists] and other criminal offenders,” according to reports at the time.

“We have only one Kyrgyz village in our town, so right now we have sent special cadres and auxiliary police there to spread propaganda on the issue,” he said. “The other villages are Uyghur villages, so just a summary of the letter was disseminated to them.”

Authorities are promoting the letter mainly in villages in border areas, such as Muji and Bulungkol in Akto (in Chinese, Aketao) county, he said.

“The Krygyz herdsmen have duties to report suspicious people and activities to the government,” he said, adding that he could not disclose the identities of the herdsman whom authorities have enlisted.

Ilshat Hesen, chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based Uyghur American Association, said the Chinese government’s use of the Kyrgyz herdsmen on the Pamir Plateau as spies shows that China has turned into a police state.

“Before this, Chinese authorities used Uchturpan [county] and the Pamir [Plateau] as their eyes and ears to capture Uyghurs who were escaping to other countries,” he told RFA.

“Now, urging the Kyrgyz herdsman to spy on Uyghurs by publishing an open letter to them is nothing but turning the Uyghurs and Kyrgyz against each other.”

Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.